Industry lobby group the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia (SEA) has folded after giving up the struggle to survive in an inhospitable political and economic environment.
In a surprise announcement from the organisation, established around seven years ago to grow Australia’s renewable energy industry, the organisation said it had wound-up with immediate effect last week after seeking advice about its solvency – advice which ultimately recommended it ceased trading.
The closure comes as the once buoyant renewable energy sectior grapples with a raft of policy changes under the Abbott government which has made a strong point of returning government support to traditional fossil fuel energy sources like coal and gas.
The SEA’s federal government wish list had included a national emissions trading scheme, investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency incentives and a 100 per cent Federal Government renewable energy procurement strategy by 2015.
It is a Christmas list unlikely to be fulfilled, with a national emissions trading scheme looking further away than ever and the Coalition government still locked in battle in a bid to scale back the Renewable Energy Target (RET).
Government News spoke to disappointed SEA Chairman Mike Loughton-Smith about the group’s demise.
“We had to stop trading. It got to a point where declining membership and revenue meant we wouldn’t be able to recover costs,” Mr Laughton-Smith said.
The SEA will close with modest debts and two staff will lose their jobs.
Mr Laughton-Smith said the group had been a ‘broad church’ and had included mining and building companies, equipment suppliers and manufacturers.
“It was not just about clean energy but also about energy efficiency in the built environment and transport and renewable energy technology,” he said.
“For me, it was always about networking to make the industry stronger and identify opportunities quickly but also about harnessing all of that knowledge base and feeding it back into policy.”
But despite diverse membership, SEA’s membership numbers had dropped to the point of no return from 380 members at its height in 2011 to 200 members last week.
Mr Laughton-Smith said a combination of factors were at play in SEA’s closure, including a Liberal Government that did not seem to back clean energy, coupled with tough economic conditions, both of which had affected members’ ability to pay their fees.
He also conceded that perhaps the SEA had not met its members’ expectations.
“Dramatic changes in government policy has made life hard for a developing industry. The federal government spent the last few years developing a clean energy framework and we have seen most of it dismantled or attempted to be dismantled,” he said.
Federal government moves to squash the RET and axe the Australia Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which had a huge fund for renewable energy projects, and reducing small technology certificates – which had previously effectively discounted the technology by up to 25 per cent – had all taken their toll on the sustainable energy sector.
“All industry needs certainty. It’s really difficult for the industry to grow in that environment. All we want is stable decision making and not changing the targets all the time,” Mr Laughton-Smith.
The SEA had always had a strong Western Australian voice – it was previously called WA SEA – and this mantle had been shouldered by the Clean Energy Council (CEC), which has stepped forward to establish a Western Australia directorate after discussions with SEA.
Mr Laughton-Smith said he was ‘delighted’ by the move. CEC has undertaken to lobby WA decision makers, hold forums, analyse policy and publicise WA as a destination for developing clean energy.
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